It was a quiet election day eve and Other Lives made their return to the Valley of the Sun. They’ve come to Phoenix before as the opener for Radiohead back in March and opening for rock royalty has definitely taken their public awareness to new heights. They returned this time as the headliner at Crescent Ballroom, a much more intimate venue than the giant hockey arena they played last time.
Previously incarnated as Kunek, Other Lives tracked the cinematic Tamer Animals in their own space in their hometown of Stillwater, OK and released it in February of 2011. “I’d rather us be an ensemble than a rock band.” states frontman Jesse Tabish on the band’s website. The album strikes the listener as a carefully-constructed work of art, resembling Sigur Ros but with discernible vocals. Will the show be as deliberate, as delicate and as cinematic as the album?
The stage is populated with several instruments, keyboards, violins and cellos, xylophones and miscellaneous percussion instruments, a timpani next to a laptop, and at each station is a large incandescent light bulb. The house lights go out around 9:30 as a keyboard sound with a delay effect chimes out of the PA. Tabish and the rest of Other Lives take the stage among the maze of instruments, and with a quick hello, guitarist Jon Mooney blasts notes through a trumpet and the large bulbs twitch to life. The beginning notes of “Dark Horse” take shape and the crowd cheers as Tabish sways with his eyes closed for the opening verse.
The crowd was mostly still and attentive throughout the show. Some sway with their eyes closed while others seemed in the midst of a transcendent experience. A girl in front of me threw her arms up for the opening tom hit of “Weather.” Every song was a cinematic production in minor keys, complete with builds and climaxes with a touch of Oklahoma roots to it. In the final moments of “Weather.” Tabish jumped back to bang a tom and Mooney trilled out an erratic trumpet solo as the giant bulbs sizzled along.
It became immediately obvious that while all the members of the band have primary instruments, the five people on stage are doing the work of 15, sometimes switching instruments in the middle of songs, and just about everyone contributed to the backup vocals at some point. One of the cooler moments came a during the album’s namesake song, “Tamer Animals” cellist Jenny Tsu played what looked like deer antlers morphed into tambourines as the stage lights flashed along with the snare hits. As Tabish stated on the website, the band has a very different character than most indie outfits. Far from being haphazardly thrown together, their stage show is very busy and deliberate, as if to say “This is art. This is serious business. This is intense, cinematic and you should be moved by it.”
After about an hour, the band walks off to applause. Tabish returns immediately and plays a brooding piano song amidst glowing blue lights. The band rejoins afterward and Tabish jokes about killing the “official” vibe by taking too long to tune his guitar. The crowd laughs along and they play an anomalous upbeat song, after which Tabish states, “That’s about as happy as we’ll ever fucking get!” They finish with thanking the crowd, the opening band and one more brooding art piece.